Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Miracle #3

Three new drawings are up on the website.

....and I'm not calling this a miracle, but this happens tonight:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A gift. For you.

Turn up your volume, be calm and quiet for 33 seconds and enjoy.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Miracle #2

I got to watch a movie tonight. It was not animated or rated G.

And it was hilarious.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Miracle #1

I saw this guy today. Not particularly miraculous until you consider that he spends 99% of his time in St. Louis or Kansas City or something like that. It's the middle of the country, it's all the same out there.

I've known John since he was a wee lad and he turned out pretty good in spite of that.

Out of nowhere he drops by and cracks me up. Nice.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

more 'scuses

sleet, snow, freezing rain with Violet
athletic shoe Santa

Darth Vader in Toys R Us. Seriously. Darth Vader came walking in.

But I really did finish a new drawing. Honest.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Here's what I've been doing instead of drawing:

disposing of fallen tree
decorating a different tree

watching the greatest Christmas special

turning in grades earned in this room

driving home in winter weather
But now we have a roaring fire in the fireplace, Tom & Jerry's Nutcracker cartoon on TV, and fresh baked chocolate chip muffins in the shape of Christmas trees. The drawing begins tonight.
Maybe I'll have a good coffee first.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What was I thinking?

Sometimes you have these great ideas. Or at least they seem like great ideas at first. I try to get my students to understand that while those first ideas seem wonderful and creative they should resist the urge to go with their first thoughts and they should give their ideas time to develop and improve. Those who listen eventually realize the truly great ideas come later.
Two weeks ago I had a great idea. Pretty much on a whim I decided I wanted to run a 5k race. I found a local race and pre-registered because this was a great idea.

When you give your ideas time to develop and improve, you realize potential problems and you give your brain the time to creatively solve those problems before anything bursts into flames or before anyone loses a limb. You have the opportunity to bounce your ideas off of other people and often they can provide some helpful feedback.

Like, for example when you tell them you’re going to run a 5k they might tell you that you’re not a runner. Or at least you haven’t been a runner since college and that was a long time ago. Perhaps they’d tell you that normal people actually train for several weeks prior to running a 5k. They might even tell you that it’s December and that it’s going to be very cold when you run. After gaining all this helpful information most people would amend their original idea and sign up for a race in early spring instead.

Yet I was convinced that my idea was great. I did listen to advice from my marathon running friend (who now thinks I’m a crazy person) and I ended up going for a practice run last Wednesday. Big mistake. I thought I was going to die. My legs are still sore from that little excursion and I almost talked myself into being reasonable and putting off the race.

But my idea was still great. So I got up early this morning and tried to convince myself that 28 degrees was not really all that cold for an early morning 5k, even in short sleeves. And somehow I did it. I didn’t have to stop and I kept a pretty good pace and I even finished with a respectable time. I don’t understand why but I might have enjoyed it. It reminded me of running around the Winthrop lake at night when I was in better shape.

Of course I know this was a terrible idea. I just got lucky this time. Or at least I feel lucky while the endorphins are still circulating. Tomorrow will be another thing entirely. I just hope I’ll be able to walk.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Happy Trees

I do not think my creative work has ever been described as angsty or depressing. In high school and college there were always peers who drew inspiration from deep, dark areas of their life experiences. Some of their work was interesting, but mostly it was just depressing. These creative productions were often accompanied with a far too detailed verbal account of how sad their childhoods were or how their parents just didn't understand them. I'm guessing 95% of the people on this planet would not consider the life of the middle class teenager to be a life of suffering.

But I had a great childhood and my parents are awesome. Maybe everything in my life hasn't been all peaches and candy....but I choose to focus on the positive things. My ideas are much more likely to come from silliness and laughing than from suffering. This is why I was not sure I would enjoy Rob Bell's new book.

His book "Drops Like Stars" was advertised as negotiating the connections between suffering and creativity and this made me uneasy. I feared Bell, who has earned my respect with his speaking and his writing, would talk about how all great art comes from those dark places. I planned to disagree with him but I couldn't resist ordering the book anyway. Though Bell is not a visual artist, he has ventured into this creative territory before discussing the connections between spirituality, aesthetics, and creativity. His ideas have been well researched and they always seem to contain a healthy dose of common sense.

The experience of reading this book pulled me in several different directions. I have to refer to this as an experience because this book is about much more than the words on the page. Each page has a visual effect and the entire book is very well designed. But it's also very short. So short that my first honest reaction to finishing the book in 30 minutes was fairly negative. I saw the images, I followed the verbal path, and I felt like someone ended my dinner after only an appetizer. I wanted more. I expected more. But then, like any good minimalist work will do, the book invited me in for a closer inspection. The second time through is when the book really began to inflate itself with meaning and significance. There were things I had missed. There were things in the images I did not see the first time. It was then that it occurred to me that this was more than a written collection of ideas passed from person to person. This was more than a person sharing some interesting images. This was an aesthetic experience that stood a chance at lingering in my head far longer than a plain book would have.

So I intentionally took my time in scrawling down any response to the book in order to give myself the time and space to process it. Then I loaned the book to a friend who made this very intelligent blog post about it.

Bell mentions several ideas in this book that are worthy of exploration. One of the things that made a connection with me was his mention of the musician Warren Zevon who died of cancer a few years ago. Zevon had several rock hits in his career but his life and music changed when he found out he was dying of cancer. Knowing his time was short allowed him to open up his songwriting to a more honest and fearless approach resulting in one final album that was essentially his goodbye note to his family and to his listeners. One of the best songs on this album is "Keep me in your heart" which you can listen to for free here.

Zevon appeared on David Letterman near the end of his life and during the interview Letterman asked about how this cancer death sentence had changed his life. As recorded on page 101 of Bell's book, Letterman asked, "From your perspective, do you know something about life...that maybe I don't know?" Zevon responded, "I know how much you're supposed to enjoy every sandwich." This response indicates Zevon's new focus on every single detail of life. It points to a man who is sucking the marrow out of life, even taking the time to take pleasure in what most of us would consider mundane. I might contend that this heightened sense of awareness of the little things in life led Zevon to create the most beautiful and powerful creative work of his lifetime.

Bell's approach to the connection between suffering and creativity did not focus on the negative. Bell seems more interested in how artists like Zevon turn these negatives into positives.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


That book I was hoping to read is called “The Guinea Pig Diaries” by A.J. Jacobs. If you’ve been reading this thing a while you might remember Jacobs from my comments about his last book.

Jacobs presents himself as a decent, regular guy in his writing. He’s a working husband and father and seems to be constantly trying to find ways to better himself. Some of his attempts at being a better person have led him to his strange experiments wherein he makes himself the guinea pig. This book is largely a collection of those experiments. He spent a month doing everything his wife wanted him to do, he tried to live by George Washington’s code of conduct, and he gave Radical Honesty a try among other things. The thing about his experiments is that the reader gets to experience them through him without going to all the trouble. The reader gets the best parts of the research in a Cliff’s Notes way. (Do they still make Cliff’s Notes?) And since I don’t have a great deal of free time for lab work, I’m happy to let A.J. take care of this for me.

The book is as informational as it is entertaining. And it’s plenty entertaining. I’m not going to tell you I belly-laughed through the whole thing, but there were a couple of moments when I chuckled out loud. Certainly part of the draw for me is that I find myself relating to the guy. He’s a sort of new father, he has a couple of jobs, and he’s constantly trying to figure out ways to create a peaceful, happy personal life. Of course these things guide his choices when determining what things he’ll try next so I’m generally interested in what he learns and if there’s any way I can use some of his findings in my life.

The most interesting chapter/experiment to me is “The Unitasker”. For this project Jacobs attempted to live his life completely without multitasking. He tried to do no more than one thing at a time and tried to truly focus on the project at hand. As with all his experiments he tries to take things to the funniest extreme. This means wearing blinders while talking on the phone to ensure that he keeps his full attention on the conversation. He ties himself to his computer chair in order to meet a book deadline. He requests a dinner in total silence with his wife. When she tells him that this dinner is actually kind of nice, he suggests they kindly keep to the project rules and refrain from talking.

This idea of shunning multitasking is something I’ve circled around for a while now. With several things on my plate at the same time I’m often forced into multitasking and what I’ve learned over the last few years is that I forget things. I forget to do things or I forget to do portions of them until the last minute. This leads to urgent rushing around and generally having to settle for some things turning out less than perfect and the control freak inside me absolutely hates this. Knowing that I tend to underperform when faced with doing 5 things at once prevents me from trying to do anything besides drive my car and listen to my iPod at the same time. I’m still one of the few people who refuse to talk on the phone while driving and if you drive anywhere between my house and Winthrop….you’re welcome for that.

See, the thing is, while we think we’re getting more things done in less time, what is really going on is that we are doing more things at a below average level in less time. And if you believe recent research on the subject, we are also losing our ability to focus on items for longer than a few seconds, we are short circuiting the way our brains normally work, and we are allowing our kids to kill themselves by driving while texting, taking photos, and sending emails. According to Jacobs’ research our attempts at doing several things at once make us more inclined to depression and much worse at developing personal connections. Our attention spans continue to decline to match the time we are accustomed to spending on things. If TV shortened our attention span into commercial sized spaces just imagine how short our attention spans will be after a few more years of instant messaging, Googling our “facts”, and texting our relationships.
*Side note: The state of North Carolina put a new law into effect on December 1, 2009 making it illegal to send text messages while driving based on overwhelming research indicating that dividing your focus impairs your ability to drive.

The really interesting thing is that while we think we’re multitasking, our brains are actually incapable of multitasking. What we are really doing is what Jacobs calls “switchtasking”. Our brains simply toggle between one task and another and each time we switch tasks, we lose milliseconds of time just from the switch. Then you have to sit there like me and try to figure out exactly where your train of thought was heading before the kid jumped out of his chair and landed on the laundry basket launching a popsicle and juice onto the couch. This apparently, is where the forgetting happens.

In the end Jacobs declares himself “calmer” as a direct result of his unitasking. What better argument could be made for putting an end to multitasking? I’m guessing all of us could use a little more calm. But it’s not as easy as just saying you’ll focus on one thing at a time. While Jacobs did manage to reduce the number of things he did at a time, he was not able to maintain any sort of only-one-task-at-a-time lifestyle. There were just too many distractions available to him.

My schedule demands that I set aside certain blocks of time to work on sculpture and drawings and I typically refuse to allow anything infringe on those times. (Well, there was that one time when I needed about one more hour to finish a sculpture and my wife insisted on having a baby right that instant.) When I’m in a production mode it does me no good to try to read a book or become interested in research. I simply am not able to focus on all those things at one time. I’ll forget what I’ve just read and I’ll miss the best solutions to the sculptures. Multitasking just doesn’t mix well with my creative work. When I block off my time and focus on one specific task my brain is better able to absorb each situation

Despite my attempts, I’m not exactly a shining example of unitasking either. While trying to read that particular chapter of Jacobs’ book on vacation I had to calm a crying baby, watch the final moments of a football game, go out on the balcony to watch some passing dolphins and get Blue dressed and ready to leave the hotel to meet some friends. The reality is that it’s very difficult to give your focus to one thing at a time.

The difficult things are usually worth the effort.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

image heavy post

Granny Green
Blue, Violet, & Green
Thanksgiving dinner at Shoney's
Violet at Shoney's
Hallo. My name is Inigo Montoya.

Making snowballs

J-net and Logan...home from PA. Logan got a haircut.